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For other uses, see Taiko (disambiguation).
Miya Daiko drum - Taiko drums.jpg
A chū-daiko, one of many types of taiko
Percussion instrument
Other names wadaiko, taiko drum
Classification unpitched percussion
Hornbostel–Sachs classification 211.222.1
(Single membranophones in which the membrane is struck directly, which have tubular, barrel-shaped bodies and two usable membranes.)
Inventor(s) Unknown; instruments are similar to ones from Korea and China. Historical evidence suggest introduction to Japan by Korean and Chinese influences.[1]
Developed Unknown; archaeological evidence shows usage on the Japanese archipelago as early as 6th century CE.
This kumi-daiko performance at the Tsukiji Hongan-ji Festival involves several performers switching between chū-daiko. Performers also lean toward and away from the drum by adjusting the degree of bend in their left knee.

Taiko (太鼓?) are a broad range of Japanese percussion instruments. Within Japan, the term refers to any kind of drum, but outside Japan, the term is often used to refer to any of the various Japanese drums called wadaiko (和太鼓?) and to the form of ensemble taiko drumming more specifically called kumi-daiko (組太鼓?, lit. "set of drums"). The process of constructing taiko varies between manufacturers, and preparation of both the drum body and skin can take several years depending on the used method.

Taiko have a mythological origin in Japanese folklore, but historical records suggest that taiko were introduced to Japan through Korean and Chinese cultural influence as early as the 6th century CE. Some taiko, such as the kakko, also bear similarity to instruments originating from India. Archaeological evidence also supports that taiko were present in Japan during the 6th century in the Kofun period. Their function has varied through history, ranging from communication, military action, theatrical accompaniment, religious ceremony, and both festival and professional performances. In contemporary times, taiko have played a central role in social movements for minorities both within and outside Japan.

Kumi-daiko performance, characterized by an ensemble playing on different drums, was developed in 1951 through the work of Daihachi Oguchi and has continued with groups such as Kodo. Other performance styles, such as hachijō-daiko, have also emerged from specific communities in Japan. Kumi-daiko performance groups are active not only in Japan, but also in the United States, Australia, Canada, and Brazil. Taiko performance consists of many components in technical rhythm, form, stick grip, clothing, and the particular instrumentation. Typically, ensembles will use different types of barrel-shaped nagadō-daiko (長胴太鼓?) as well as smaller shime-daiko (締め太鼓?). In addition to drums, many groups use vocals, string, and woodwind instruments for accompaniment.



Astatue of Ame no Uzume at Amanoiwato-jinja, standing upon a barrel

The mythological story about the origin of taiko comes from the Nihon Shoki. According to myth, taiko originated from the Shinto goddess Ame no Uzume, the goddess of sunlight, Amaterasu, and her brother Susanoo, the god of the sea and storms.

The myth explains that at one time, Susanoo suddenly became angry and went into a rage from his place on the sea, bringing havoc to the land. His sister, Amaterasu, was so upset at this state of affairs, she fled into a cave and sealed it with a boulder, refusing to come out. The other gods gathered and knew that without sunlight, life on the Earth would decay and die. Accordingly, they tried many ways to bring Amaterasu out by begging, threatening, and even trying to physically move the boulder, but were unsuccessful.[2][3]

Finally, the elder goddess Ame no Uzume, who had the appearance of an old lady, stepped forward and claimed she could bring Amaterasu out of the cave. Despite ridicule from the other gods at her aged appearance, she proceeded with her plan. Ame no Uzume emptied out a barrel of sake and jumped on the barrel's head, stomping on it furiously to create compelling, percussive rhythms. The gods were so moved by this music, they could not help but dance and sing. Their celebration became so noisy that Amaterasu peered out of the cave, and upon seeing the joyous scene, brought her light back to the world and banished Susanoo. From Ame no Uzume's performance, taiko music is thought to have been created.[2][3]


Haniwa, dated to the 6th century CE. On the left and right depict two drum performers. The statue on the left, depicted using a stick or tube on a barrel-shaped drum, represents the earliest evidence of taiko usage in Japan.

The exact origin of the instruments are unclear, though there have been many suggestions. Historical accounts from 558 CE note that young Japanese men traveled to Korea to study the kakko, a drum that had originated from Southern China. This study and appropriation of Chinese instruments may have influenced the emergence of taiko.[4] Especially, certain court music styles, namely gigaku and gagaku, were exported to Japan through both Korea and China.[5][6][7] In both traditions, dancers would be accompanied by several instruments that included similar drums.[7][8] Some even speculated that the taiko's precursor may have existed as far as in India sometime between 400–600 CE.[9] Certain percussive patterns and terminology in togaku, an early dance and music style in Japan, also reflect influence from both China and India with regard to the use of drums in gagaku performance.[10]

Archaeological evidence shows that taiko were used in Japan as early as the 6th century CE, during the latter part of the Kofun period, and were likely used for communication, festivals, and other rituals.[11] This evidence was substantiated by the discovery of haniwa statues in the Sawa District of Gunma Prefecture. Two of these figures are depicted to be playing drums.[11][12] One of the statues, a player wearing skins, is equipped with a barrel-shaped drum hung from his shoulder and uses a stick or tube to play the drum at hip height.[11][13][14] This particular statue, titled "Man Beating the Taiko," and is considered to be oldest evidence of taiko performance in Japan.[14][13] Similarities between the playing style of demonstrated by this haniwa and known music traditions in Korea and China further suggest influences from these regions.[13]

Use in warfare[edit]

Hand-colored print of a woman playing a shime-daiko, circa 1885

In feudal Japan, taiko were often used to motivate troops, to help set a marching pace, and to call out orders or announcements. In battle, the taiko yaku (drummer) was responsible for setting the marching pace, usually with six paces per beat of the drum.[15][16] During the Sengoku period, specific drum calls were used to communicate orders for retreating and advancing.[17] Other rhythms and techniques were detailed in period texts. According to the Gunji Yoshu, nine sets of five beats would summon an ally to battle, while nine sets of three beats, sped up three or four times was the call to advance and pursue an enemy.[18] Folklore on Emperor Keitai offers a story during his reign that he obtained a large drum from China, which he named Senjin-daiko (線陣太鼓 trans. "front drum"?).[19] The Emperor was thought to have used it to both encourage his own army and intimidate his enemies.[19]

In traditional settings[edit]

Taiko have been incorporated in Japanese theater for rhythmic needs, general atmosphere, and decoration in certain settings. In the kabuki play The Tale of Shiroishi and the Taihei Chronicles, scenes in the pleasure quarters are accompanied by taiko to create dramatic tension.[20] Noh theater plays also feature taiko[21][22] where performance consists of highly specific types of rhythmic patterns. One school of drumming for Noh theater teaches 65 basic patterns in addition to 25 special patterns and are categorized across several classes.[23] Differences between these patterns include changes in tempo, accent, dynamics, pitch, and function in the theatrical performance. Patterns are also often connected together in progressions.[23]

Taiko continue to be used in the classical tradition called gagaku typically performed at the Imperial Court in Kyoto. In gagaku, one component of the art form is traditional dance, which is guided in part by the rhythm set by the taiko.[24] Taiko have also played an important role in many local festivals across Japan.[25] Prior to kumi-daiko groups (i.e. taiko ensembles) emerging after World War II, taiko were typically used to accompany religious ritual music such as kagura, a form of Shinto dance, as well as Bon dance.[26][27]


A kumi-daiko group performing in Aichi, Japan wearing hachimaki

In addition to the instrument itself, the term taiko also refers to the performance itself,[28][29] one style of which is called kumi-daiko (組太鼓?), or ensemble-style playing (as opposed to festival performances, rituals, or theatrical use of the drums).[30] Kumi-daiko was developed by Daihachi Oguchi in 1951.[31][32][33] He is considered a master performer and helped transform taiko performance from its roots in traditional settings in festivals and shrines.[34] Oguchi was trained as a jazz musician in Nagano, and at one point, he was given an old piece of written taiko music by a relative.[35] Unable to read the music because it was written in a traditional and esoteric notation,[35] Oguchi found help in order to transcribe the piece, and on his own, added rhythms and transformed the work to accommodate multiple taiko players on different-sized instruments.[36] Each instrument served a specific purpose that established present-day conventions in kumi-daiko performance.[37][38]

Oguchi's ensemble, Osuwa Daiko, incorporated these and other drums into their performances. They also devised novel pieces that were intended for non-religious performances.[35] Several other groups emerged in Japan through the 1950s and 1960s. Oedo Sukeroku Daiko was formed in Tokyo in 1959 under Seidō Kobayashi,[39] and has been referred to as the first taiko group who began professionally touring.[40] Globally, kumi-daiko performance became more visible during the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, when it was featured during the Festival of Arts event.[41]

Kumi-daiko was also developed through the leadership of Den Tagayasu, who gathered young men who were willing to devote their entire lifestyle to taiko playing and took them to Sado Island for training.[37][42] Tagayasu called their group "Za Ondekoza" or Ondekoza for short, and implemented a rigorous set of exercises including long-distance running.[36][43] In 1975, Ondekoza was the first taiko group to tour in the United States. Their first performance occurred just after their group finished running the Boston Marathon while wearing their traditional uniforms.[44][45] In 1981, some members of Ondekoza split from Den, and formed another group called Kodo under the leadership of Eitetsu Hayashi.[46] Kodo continued to use Sado Island for rigorous training and communal living, and went on to popularize taiko through frequent touring and collaborations with other musical performers.[47] Kodo is also noted to be the most recognized taiko group worldwide.[48]

Estimates of taiko groups in Japan are varied; one estimate claims that there are 5000 taiko groups active in Japan,[49] but more conservative assessments place the number closer to 800 based on membership in the Nippon Taiko Foundation, the largest national organization of taiko groups.[50] Some classic pieces that have emerged from early kumi-daiko groups that continue to be performed include Isami-goma (勇み駒?, trans. "galloping horse") from Osuwa Daiko,[51] Yatai-bayashi (屋台囃子?, lit. "festival cart orchestra") from Ondekoza,[52] and Zoku (?, trans. "tribe") from Kodo.[53]


Categories of taiko
Byō-uchi-daiko Shime-daiko Okedō-daiko Gagakki Noh
  • ō-daiko
  • chū-daiko
  • ko-daiko
  • namitsuke
  • nichō-gakke
  • sanchō-gakke
  • yonchō-gakke
  • gochō-gakke
ojime da-daiko ō-tsuzumi
hayashi-daiko nagauta shime-daiko nebuta tsuri-daiko ko-tsuzumi
hira-daiko uta-daiko daibyoshi furi-tsuzumi
sumō-daiko tsuchibyoshi san-no-tsuzumi
miya-daiko nenbutsu kakko

Taiko have been developed into a broad range of percussion instruments that are used in both Japanese folk and classical musical traditions. An early classification system based on shape and tension system was advanced by Sir Francis Taylor Piggott in 1909.[54] Taiko are generally classified based on the construction process, or the specific context in which the drum is used.[19]

With few exceptions, all taiko have a drum shell with heads on both sides of the body, and a sealed resonating cavity.[19] They are also characterized by a high amount of tension on the drums heads, with a correspondingly high pitch relative to body size.[55] Many taiko are not tunable, and a drum with high head tension would counteract the slacking effects of humidity.

Taiko are categorized into three types based on construction process. Byō-uchi-daiko (鋲撃ち太鼓?, lit. "tacked-struck drum") are constructed with the drum head nailed to the body.[19] Tsukeshime-daiko (付締め太鼓?, lit. "tightened drum") are constructed with the head attached via iron rings, which are then tightened with ropes, bolts, or turnbuckles to the drum body.[19][22] Okedō-daiko (桶胴太鼓 lit. "bucket-bodied drum"?) are rope-tensioned drums that are stave constructed and use narrower strips of wood.[19][25]

Byō-uchi-daiko were historically made using a single piece of wood, but contemporarily, they are typically made using staves of wood due to labor costs and difficulty in finding appropriate old growth trees.[19][56] The preferred wood is the Zelkova serrata or keyaki (?),[57] but a number of other woods are used, and even wine barrels have been used to create taiko.[58] Byō-uchi-daiko cannot be tuned,[59] and their sizes are limited by the diameter of the tree they are made from.

The typical byō-uchi-daiko is the nagadō-daiko (長胴太鼓 lit. "long-bodied taiko"?).[60] The nagadō-daiko is an elongated drum, roughly shaped like a wine barrel. The drum can also be played by more than one performer at the same time. Nagadō-daiko are available in a variety of sizes, and their head diameter is traditionally measured in shaku, which are roughly equivalent to measurements in feet. Head diameters range from 1 to 6 shaku (30 to 182 cm; 12 to 72 in). The chū-daiko is a medium-sized nagadō-daiko, and range from 1.8 to 2.6 shaku (55 to 79 cm).[60] Smaller byō-uchi-daiko, such as the "sumō-daiko" and "hayashi-daiko" also exist.

This ōdaiko from a Kodo performance features a tomoe design on its skin.
An example of a byō-uchi-daiko, specifically a middle-sized chū-daiko, being played on a slanted stand

The largest drums of many taiko ensembles are the ō-daiko (大太鼓?). Literally, ö-daiko means "large, fat drum", but within any group, it describes the largest drum in an ensemble. Ō-daiko vary in size, though they are often as large as 6 shaku (180 cm; 6.0 ft) in diameter.[61][62] Made from a single piece of wood, some ō-daiko come from trees that are hundreds of years old. Some ō-daiko are also too difficult to move due to their size, and therefore permanently reside inside a temple or shrine.[60]

An example of a shime-daiko, tensioned using rope

Shime-daiko are available in a wide variety of styles, and are tunable. The tensioning system usually consists of hemp cords[63] or rope, but bolt or turnbuckle systems have been used as well.[22][64] The tsukeshime-daiko is a heavier version of this roughly snare drum-sized instrument[65] and is generally available in five sizes, numbered 1 to 5 with names: "namitsuke", "nichō-gakke", "sanchō-gakke", "yonchō-gakke", and "gochō-gakke".[66] The namitsuke has the thinnest skins and the shortest body in terms of height; thickness and tension of skins, as well as body height, increase towards the gochō-gakke.[67] There is also a specific kind of shime-daiko used in Buddhist temples called an uta-daiko.[68] The head diameters of all shime-daiko sizes are approximately the same, around 27 cm (10.6 in).[63]

A woodprint block by Yashima Gakutei illustrating a woman playing a tsuri-daiko

Okedō-daiko, or simply okedō, are stave-constructed, have a tube-shaped frame, and have heads which are attached by metal hoops and fastened either by rope or cords.[60][69] Okedō are played using the same or similar bachi as shime daiko. They can also be hand-played.[69] Okedō come in short- and long-bodied types.[60]

Other taiko are categorized by how they are used. The miya-daiko, for instance, is constructed in the same manner as any byō-uchi-daiko, but is distinguished by an ornamental stand and is used for ceremonial purposes at Buddhist temples.[70]

Several drums, called gagakki (雅楽器?), are used in the Japanese theatrical form called gagaku.[71][72] The kakko (鞨鼓?) is the lead instrument of the ensemble.[73] The drum is rope-tensioned with heads made of deerskin, and is placed on a stand horizontally during performance.[73] Dadaiko (大太鼓?) are the largest drums of the ensemble,[74] and have heads that are approximately 127 centimetres (50 in) in diameter. They are decoratively painted with flames and are sometimes referred to as kaen-daiko (火炎太鼓?, lit. "flame drum"). They are placed on a tall pedestal and are usually only played on the downbeat of the music.[72] The tsuri-daiko (釣太鼓?) is a smaller drum, its head measuring about 55 cm (22 in) in diameter. It is typically played for bugaku performances.[4] Tsuri-daiko produce a lower sound, and can either be played sitting down[75] or standing up when the drum is suspended on a stand.[4] Tsuri-daiko performers typically use shorter mallets covered in leather knobs instead of bachi.[4] Tsuri-daiko can also be played simultaneously by two performers; while one performer plays on the head, another performer will use bachi on the body of the drum.[4] There are other taiko used in gagaku such as the san-no-tsuzumi (三の鼓?).[73][76]



Taiko drum manufacturing display in the Osaka Human Rights Museum

Taiko construction has several components, including making and shaping of the drum body (or shell), preparing the drum skin, and tuning the skin to the drum head. Variations in the construction process often occur in the latter two parts of this process.[77] Historically, byō-uchi-daiko were crafted from tree trunks of the Zelkova that were purposefully dried out over multiple years, using particular techniques to prevent splitting. A master carpenter would then carve out the rough shape drum body by hand using a chisel; the texture of the wood after carving would soften the tone of the drum when struck.[77][78] In contemporary times, taiko are carved out on a large lathe using wood staves[56] or logs that can be shaped to either fit a larger or smaller drum body.[79] Drum heads can be left to air dry over a period of years,[80] but some companies use large, smoke-filled warehouses to hasten the drying process.[78] After the drying process is complete, the inside of the drum is worked with a deep-grooved chisel and sanded.[80] Lastly, handles are placed onto the drum; while these are more functional on smaller drums for carrying, they serve an ornamental purpose for larger drums.[81]

The skin or head of taiko are generally made from cowhide from Holstein cows aged about three or four years. Skins also come from horses, and bull skin is preferred for larger drums.[23][77] Thinner skins are preferred for smaller taiko, and thicker skins are used for larger ones.[82] On some drum heads, a patch of deer skin is placed in the center, and serves as the target for many strokes during performance.[23] The hair is removed from the hide prior to fitting it to the drum body by soaking the hide in a river or stream for about a month; winters months are preferred as colder temperatures better facilitate hair removal.[81] To stretch the skin over the drum properly, one process requires the body to be held on a platform with several hydraulic jacks underneath it. The edges of the cowhide are secured to an apparatus below the jacks, and the jacks stretch the skin incrementally to precisely tension the skin to the drumhead.[83] Other forms of stretching, such as for the hayashi-daiko, use rope or cords with wooden dowels or an iron wheel to create appropriate tension for the instrument.[84] Small tension adjustments can be made to the during this process using small pieces of bamboo that twist around the ropes.[81] After the skin has dried, tacks, called byō, are added to appropriate drums to secure it; chū-daiko require about 300 of them for each side.[85]

After the body and skin have been finished, excess hide is cut off and the drum can be stained as needed.[85]

Drum makers[edit]

Prior to widespread accessibility to the Internet, taiko construction was restricted to specific artisans and companies. One such company that created drums exclusively for the Emperor of Japan, Miyamoto Unosuke Shoten in Tokyo, made taiko for several generations.[77] The Asano Taiko Corporation is another major taiko producing organization, stating that their tradition of construction has remained the same for the past 400 years.[86] The family-owned business started in Mattō, Ishikawa in making taiko for Noh theater in addition to military equipment, and later expanded to creating instruments for festivals during the Meiji period. Asano currently maintains an entire complex of large buildings commonly referred to as Asano Taiko Village,[86] and produces up to 8000 drums per year.[87] Presently, there is about one major taiko production company in each prefecture of Japan, though some regions have several companies, such as in the Naniwa Ward in Osaka.[88] Of the manufacturers in Naniwa, Taikoya Matabē is one of the most successful and is thought to have brought considerable recognition to the community and attracted many drum makers there.[89] Umetsu Daiko, a company that operates in Hakata, has been producing taiko since 1821.[80]


Taiko performance styles vary widely across groups in terms of the number of performers, their repertoire, instrument choices, and stage techniques.[90] However, a number of early groups have had broad influence on the tradition. For instance, many pieces developed by Ondekoza and Kodo are considered standards in many taiko groups.[91]


Kata (?, literally "form") is a term used to describe the posture and movement associated with taiko performance.[92][30] It bears similarity to the same term in martial arts, such as the idea that the hara (?, literally "stomach") is the center of being.[30] Some have argued that kata is the primary feature that distinguishes different taiko groups from one another, and is a key factor in judging the quality of the performance.[93] For this reason, many practice rooms intended for taiko contain several mirrors to provide visual feedback to players.[94] One important component of kata in taiko relates to keeping the body stabilized while performing, which is often accomplished by keeping a wide, low stance with the legs.[30] Similarly, some teachers note a tendency to rely on the upper body in performance, and emphasize the importance holistic use of body in movements.[95]

Some groups in Japan, particularly in those active in Tokyo, also emphasize the importance of the concept called iki (?), and refers to very specific kinds of movement while performing. The term evokes a sophistication stemming from the mercantile and artisan classes active during the time of Edo.[95]

Sticks for playing taiko, called bachi (?), are held in a number of styles. Bachi are held somewhat loosely by the thumb, middle, and index fingers in an overhead grip, similar to a matched grip.[96][97] In general, the fulcrum of the bachi rests between the performer's index finger and thumb, while the other fingers remain relaxed and slightly curled around the stick.[98] There are other grips that allow performers to play much faster rhythms for more technically-difficult pieces, such as the shime grip.[99]

The way the bachi are held is also significant in the context of Buddhism. For some groups, bachi represent a spiritual link between the body and the sky.[100]


Several drummers perform a traditional pattern on a taiko drum at a summer festival in Japan.

Kumi-daiko groups consist primarily of percussive instruments where each of the drums plays a specific role. Of the different kinds of taiko, the most common drum used in groups is the nagado-daiko.[101] Chū-daiko are common in taiko groups[30] and are intended to represent the main rhythm of the group, whereas shime-daiko are intended to set and change tempo,[102] and ō-daiko play a steady, underlying pulse[35] that consists of counter-rhythms to the shime part.[103]

Drums are not the only instruments played in the ensemble; other Japanese instruments are also incorporated in groups. Other kinds of percussion instruments include the atarigane (当り鉦?), a small gong that is roughly the size of one's hand, and is played with a small mallet.[104] In kabuki, the shamisen (三味線?) often accompanies taiko during the theatrical performance.[105] Of the woodwinds used, bamboo flutes known as the shakuhachi (尺八?)[106] and the shinobue (篠笛?) sometimes accompany kumi-daiko groups.[107][108]

Voiced calls or shouts called kakegoe (掛け声?, lit. "hung voice") or kiai (気合?, lit. "scream") are also commonly employed in taiko performance.[109][110] It is often used as encouragement to other players, or can be used as a cue for transitions or a change in dynamics in the performance such as an increase in tempo.[111]


There is a wide variety of traditional clothing that players wear during taiko performance. Common in many kumi-daiko groups is the use of the happi (法被?), a decorative, thin-fabric coat, and traditional headbands called hachimaki (鉢巻?).[112] Tabi (足袋?, split-toed shoes), momohiki (もも引き?, loose-fitting pants), and haragake (腹掛け?, "working aprons") are also typical.[113] During his time with the group Ondekoza, Eitetsu Hayashi suggested a loincloth called a fundoshi (?) be worn when performing for French fashion designer Pierre Cardin, who saw Ondekoza perform for him in 1975.[114] The Japanese group Kodo has sometimes worn fundoshi for its performances.[115]


Taiko performance is generally taught orally and through demonstration.[116][117] While general patterns for taiko have been written down historically, such as in the 1512 encyclopedia called the Taigensho,[118] written scores for taiko are generally unavailable. One reason for the adherence to an oral tradition is that, from group to group, the rhythmic patterns in a given piece are often performed differently.[119] Furthermore, ethnomusicologist William P. Malm noted that Japanese players within a group cannot usefully predict one another on written notation, and must do so by listening.[120] In Japan, printed parts are not used during actual lessons.[118]

More recently, there has been literature published on taiko performance based on Japanese standards. The Nippon Taiko Foundation was formed in 1979; its primary goals were to foster good relations among taiko groups in Japan and to both publicize and teach how to perform taiko.[121][122] Daihachi Oguchi, the leader of the Foundation, wrote "Japan Taiko" with other teachers in 1994 out of concern that correct form in performance would degrade over time.[123] The instructional publication described the different drums used in kumi-daiko performance, methods of gripping, correct form, and suggestions on instrumentation. The book also contains some practice exercises and some transcribed pieces from Oguchi's group, Osuwa Daiko. While there were similar textbooks published before 1994, this publication had much more visibility due to the Foundation's scope.[124]

However, the system of fundamentals advanced by "Japan Taiko" were not widely adopted because taiko performance was substantially different across localities in Japan. An updated 2001 publication from the Foundation, called the Nihon Taiko Kyōhon (日本太鼓教本 lit. "Japan Taiko Textbook"?), describes regional variations that depart from the main techniques taught in the textbook. The creators of the text still maintain, however, that mastering a set of prescribed basics should be compatible with learning local traditions.[125]

Regional styles[edit]

Aside from the usual style of playing taiko, a number of distinct forms have emerged from different regions in Japan.


Two women wearing kimonos perform traditional Hachijō-daiko.

Hachijō-daiko (八丈太鼓?, trans. "Hachijō-style taiko") is a unique style of Japanese drumming originating on Japan's Hachijō-jima.[126] Two styles of Hachijō-daiko emerged and have been popularized amongst island residents: An older tradition based on a historical account, and a newer tradition influenced by mainland groups and practiced by the majority of the islanders.[126]

Journal records[edit]

Historically, the tradition seems to have originated as early as 1849 based on a journal kept by an exiled Japanese man named Kakuso Kizan. In a translation, Kizan noted some unique features of Hachijō-daiko, noting, "...a taiko is suspended from a tree while women and children gathered around". Kizan also observed that a player used either side of the drum while performing.[127] Illustrations from Kizan's journal showed some of features of Hachijō-daiko. Surprisingly, these illustrations also featured women performing. This was unusual because taiko performance elsewhere during this period was typically reserved for men. In fact, multiple teachers of the tradition have noted that the majority of performers were women; one estimate asserts that the tradition was dominated by female performers at a 3:1 ratio compared to male performers.[128]


A performance by San Jose Taiko in Hachijō-daiko style. On the upright drum, the o-se part (left) plays more complex rhythms while the shita-byōshi (right) plays a consistent underlying rhythm.

One tradition of Hachijō-daiko is thought to extend directly from the style reported by Kizan. This style is called Kumaoji-daiko, named after its creator Okuyama Kumaoji, a central performer of the style.[129] Kumaoji-daiko contains two players on a single drum, one of which provides the underlying beat, or shita-byōshi.[130] The other player, called the o-se, builds on this rhythmical foundation with unique and typically improvised musical composition. While there are specific types of underlying rhythms, the accompanying player is free to express an original musical beat.[130] Kumaoji-daiko also features an unusual positioning for taiko: The drums are sometimes suspended from ropes,[131] and historically, sometimes drums were suspended from trees.[127]

The contemporary style of Hachijō-daiko is called shin-daiko. Similar to Kumaoji-daiko, two players still play a single drum and are still assigned lead and accompanying roles. However, shin-daiko performances often have drums used on stands. The forerunners of shin-daiko also desired a more powerful sound, and so larger bachi made out of stronger wood are typically used. In terms of stance, performers are diagonally situated from the drum with their legs spread out. There are also differences in the types of rhythms used for the accompanying role.[132]


Miyake-daiko (三宅太鼓?, trans. "Miyake-style taiko") is a taiko drumming style that has spread in use among groups through Kodo, and is formally known as Miyake-jima Kamitsuki mikoshi-daiko (三宅島神着神輿太鼓?).[133] The word miyake comes from Miyake-jima, part of the Izu Islands, and the word Kamitsuki refers to the village where the tradition came from. Miyake-style taiko came out of performances for Gozu Tenno Sai—a traditional festival held annually in July in Miyake-jima since 1820. In this festival, players perform on taiko while portable shrines are carried around town.[134] The style itself is characterized in a number of ways. A nagado-daiko is typically set low to the ground and played by two performers, one on each side. However, instead of sitting, performers are standing and hold a stance that is also very low to the ground, almost to the point of kneeling.[134][135]

Outside of Japan[edit]


Taiko groups situated in Australia began forming in the 1990s.[136] The first group in Australia, called Ataru Taru Taiko, was formed in 1995 by Paulene Thomas, Harold Gent, and Kaomori Kamei.[137] TaikOz was later formed by percussionist Ian Cleworth and Riley Lee, a former Ondekoza member, and has been performing in Australia since 1997.[138] They are known for their work in generating interest in performing taiko amongst Australian audiences, such as by developing a complete education program allowing for both formal and informal classes,[139] in addition to having a strong following in their fanbase.[140] Cleworth and other members of the group have also contributed several original pieces in their performances.[141]


Performance of the composition "Zero" by Brazilian group Seiryu Daiko in Fukuoka, Japan

Introduction of kumi-daiko performance in Brazil can be traced back to the 1970s and 1980s in São Paulo.[142][143] Tangue Setsuko founded an eponymous group and was first group in Brazil,[143] and Setsuo Kinoshita later formed the group Wadaiko Sho.[144][145] Brazilian groups have mixed in other native and some African drumming techniques with taiko performance. One such piece developed by Kinoshita is called Taiko de Samba, which has been thought to emphasize the combination of both Brazilian and Japanese aesthetics in percussion traditions.[146] Taiko was also popularized in Brazil starting in 2002 through the work of Yukihisa Oda, a Japanese native who visited Brazil several times through the Japan International Cooperation Agency.[147]

The Brazilian Association of Taiko (ABT) suggests that there are approximately 150 taiko groups in Brazil and that about 10-15% of players are non-Japanese; some have estimated that about 60% of all players are women.[147]

North America[edit]

Taiko emerged in the United States starting in the late 1960s. The first taiko group in the United States, San Francisco Taiko Dojo, was formed in 1968 by Seiichi Tanaka, a postwar immigrant who studied taiko in Japan and brought the styles and teachings to America.[148][149] A year later, a few members of Senshin Buddhist Temple in Los Angeles led by Masao Kodani, the minister, decided to form another group called Kinnara Taiko.[150] San Jose Taiko later formed in 1973 in Japantown, San Jose under Roy and PJ Hirabayashi.[151][152] Taiko started to branch out in the eastern United States in the late 1970s.[153] This included formation of Denver Taiko in 1976 and Soh Daiko in New York in 1979.[154][155] Many of these early groups lacked the resources to equip each member with a drum and resorted to using makeshift percussion materials such as rubber tires or creating taiko out of wine barrels.[153]

Japanese-Canadian taiko was formed in 1979 with Katari Taiko, and was inspired by the San Jose Taiko group.[156][157] Its early membership was entirely female.[158] Katari Taiko and future groups were also thought to represent an opportunity for younger, third-generation Japanese Canadians to explore their roots, redevelop a sense of ethnic community, and expand taiko into other musical traditions.[3]

There are no official counts or estimates of the number of active taiko groups in either the United States or Canada, as there is currently no governing body for taiko groups in either country. However, unofficial estimates have been made. In 1989, there were as many as 30 groups in the United States and Canada, 7 of which were in California.[159] One estimate suggested that around 120 groups are active in the United States and Canada as of 2001, many of which can be traced back to the San Francisco Taiko Dojo;[58] later estimates in 2005 and 2006 suggested there were approximately 200 groups in the United States alone.[49][152]

The Cirque du Soleil show Mystère in Las Vegas, Nevada, has featured taiko performance.[160] Taiko performance has also been featured in commercial productions such as the 2005 Mitsubishi Eclipse ad campaign,[161] and in events such as the 2009 Academy Awards and 2011 Grammy Awards.[162]

From 2005 to 2006, the Japanese American National Museum held an exhibition called Big Drum: Taiko in the United States.[25] The exhibition covered several topics related to taiko in the United States, such as the formation of performance groups, their construction using available materials, and social movements. Visitors were able to play smaller drums available during the exhibition as well.[163]

Related cultural and social movements[edit]

Certain peoples have used taiko as a means to advance a certain social and/or cultural movement. Such movements have been observed both within Japan and elsewhere in the world.

Gender conventions[edit]

Taiko performance has frequently been viewed as a male-dominated art form.[164][165][166] Historians of taiko argue that its performance is situated in masculine traditions. First, those who developed ensemble-style taiko on the Japanese mainland were men.[166] Second, through the influence of Ondekoza, the "ideal taiko player" was epitomized in images of the masculine peasant class,[166] particularly through the character Muhōmatsu in the 1958 film Rickshaw Man.[112][166] Masculine roots have also been attributed to "spectacular bodily performance"[167] where Japanese men's bodies are considered standard and women's bodies are assumed to be unable to meet the physical demands of playing.[168]

Prior to the 1980s, it was uncommon for Japanese women to perform on traditional instruments, including taiko; in fact, their participation had been systematically restricted.[166] In Ondekoza and in the early performances of Kodo, women were only performing dance routines either with or between taiko performances.[169] Thereafter, participation by females started to rise dramatically such that by the 1990s, they were equally represented and possibly exceeded the representation by men.[166] However, while the proportion of women participating in taiko has become substantial, some have expressed concern that women still do not perform in the same roles as their male counterparts and that taiko performance continues to be a male-dominated profession.[168] For instance, a member of Kodo was informed by the director of the group's apprentice program that women were permitted to play, but could only play "as women."[170] Other women in the apprentice program also recognized a gender disparity that affected what kinds of performance they were allowed to do. This perception was based on factors such as what pieces they were allowed to perform or in physical terms based on a male standard.[171]

Taiko performance by Japanese women has also served as a response to gendered stereotypes of being quiet,[3] subservient, or a femme fatale.[172] Through performance, some groups believe they are helping to redefine not only the role of women in taiko, but how women are perceived more generally.[172][173]


See also: burakumin

Individuals involved in the construction of taiko are usually considered part of the burakumin, a minority and marginalized class in Japanese society. Discrimination of this class dates back to the Tokugawa period for those occupied in leatherwork (among other professions that worked with animal skins), who were legally treated as outcasts. Although such official discrimination legally ended with the Tokugawa era, the burakumin continue to face social discrimination, such as scrutiny during employment or in marriage arrangements.[174] Drum makers have used their trade and success as a means to advocate for an end to discriminatory practices against their class.[175]

The ward of Naniwa in Osaka, home to a large proportion of burakumin, contains the Taiko Road (人権太鼓ロード lit. "Taiko Road of Human Rights"?) which represents their contributions.[88] Among other features, the road contains taiko-shaped benches representing their traditions in taiko manufacturing and leatherworking, and their impact on national culture.[89][174] The road ends at the Osaka Human Rights Museum, which exhibits the history of systematic discrimination against the burakumin amongst other minorities.[174] The road and museum was developed in part due an advocacy campaign led by the Buraku Liberation League and a local taiko group of younger performers called Taiko Ikari (太鼓怒り lit. "taiko rage"?).[88]

Engagement by sansei[edit]

During the 1960s and 1970s, a social movement occurred in North America among several third-generation Japanese residents, called sansei (三世?).[152] During World War II, second-generation Japanese residents, called nisei (二世?) faced discrimination in the United States and in Canada, and many were sent to internment camps on the basis of their race.[176][177] For this reason, during and after the war, Japanese residents were discouraged from activities such as speaking Japanese or forming ethnic communities.[177] Subsequently, sansei could not engage in Japanese culture and instead were raised to assimilate into more normative activities.[178] There were also prevailing stereotypes of Japanese people, from which sansei were seeking to escape or subvert.[178] Given these circumstances, the United States civil rights movement of the 1960s influenced sansei to reexamine their heritage by engaging in Japanese culture in their communities; one such approach was through taiko performance.[177][178]

Alternatively, some have also argued that the resurgence of taiko in the United States and Japan served different purposes: In Japan, performance was meant to represent the need to recapture sacred traditions while in the United States, it was meant to be an explicit representation of masculinity and power in Japanese-Americans.[179]

Notable performers and groups[edit]

There are a number of performers and groups who have been recognized for their contributions to taiko performance, and include several early leaders. Daihachi Oguchi (小口 大八 Oguchi Daihachi?) was best known for developing the ensemble-style taiko performance called kumi-daiko. Oguchi founded the first kumi-daiko group called Osuwa Daiko in 1951, and also facilitated the popularization of taiko performance groups in Japan.[180] Seidō Kobayashi (小林正道 Kobayashi Seidō?) is the founder and current leader of the Tokyo-based taiko group, Oedo Sukeroku Taiko, founded in 1959. Oedo Sukeroku Taiko was the first group to tour professionally.[181] Kobayashi is considered a master performer of taiko.[182] He is also known for attempting to assert intellectual control of the group's performance style, which has impacted approaches to performance among many groups, particularly in North America.[183] Tagayasu Den (田耕 Den Tagayasu?) founded Ondekoza in 1969, which was well known for artistically and professionally representing taiko performance.[184] Den was also known for developing a communal living and training facility for Ondekoza on Sado Island in Japan, and was well known for its intensity and broad education programs in folklore and music.[185]

A solo performance by Eitetsu Hayashi in at a 2001 concert in Tokyo

Other famous performers and groups beyond early practitioners have also been noted. Eitetsu Hayashi (林英哲 Hayashi Eitetsu?) is best known for his solo performance work.[186] Hayashi joined the group Ondekoza when he was 19. Later, after parting from group, he helped found the taiko group Kodo, argued to be one of the most well-known and influential taiko performance group worldwide.[187][188][189] However, Hayashi quickly left the group to begin a solo career.[190] Hayashi has performed in notable venues such as Carnegie Hall in 1984 and was the first featured taiko performer at the institution.[191][192] He is also the recipient of multiple awards recognizing the cultural value of his work.[192] Seiichi Tanaka (田中 誠一 Tanaka Seiichi?) is the founder of the San Francisco Taiko Dojo and is largely regarded as the father of taiko performance in North America.[193] He was also a recipient of a 2001 National Heritage Fellowship awarded by the National Endowment for the Arts.[194]

Related terms[edit]

Bachi are sticks used specifically for taiko performance, and are slightly thicker than typical drum sticks.
Bachi (?, "drumsticks")
Wooden sticks used to play taiko. These sticks can be made out of several different kinds of wood and are generally around 40 cm in length.[100]
Jiuchi (地うち?, "basic phrase")
Also simply referred to as ji, jiuchi is a basic rhythm used to support the main rhythm, and can be described as the meter or feel of a piece (being in a straight or swing meter). These rhythms are usually carried by the ō-daiko and shime-daiko.[195]
Ma (?, "interval") 
A Japanese term that can mean "interval" or "space". In taiko music, ma is the period between hits on the drum, and is considered to be an important component to performance. Since ensemble taiko is focused on rhythm, the ma of a piece is critical to adding drama, excitement, and tension.[100]
Oroshi (?, "wind blowing down from mountains") 
An oroshi is a type of single stroke roll often incorporated into taiko performance.[100] The player (or players) starts out playing slowly, leaving considerable space between strikes. Gradually the spacing between each hit becomes shortens, until the drummer is playing a rapid roll of hits.[100] Oroshi are also played as a part of theatrical performance, such as in Noh theater.[23]

Taiko no Tatsujin[edit]

In 2001, a rhythm video game for arcades was developed by Namco in Japan called Taiko no Tatsujin (太鼓の達人?), or in North America,[196] Taiko: Drum Master and uses artificial taiko and sticks.[197] The game was later developed for Playstation 2 in 2002 and later for other consoles. The game uses scrolling visual cues to indicate when and what kind of drum stroke is required.[196][197] Generally, the game has been popular in Japan, but many of the games in the series have not been released elsewhere.[198][199]

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